Once it’s been processed and pulped, most red meat looks more or less the same. This seems to be helping unscrupulous meat suppliers: according to a new survey, 20% of ground meat contains more than what’s just on the label.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said that ground beef was one of the mis-labelled products; in fact, all the beef products testing in this study were found to be 100% beef.

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Researchers from Chapman University analysed 48 samples of ground meat from across the USA to see what was in them. The team used a combination of DNA barcoding and real-time polymerase chain reaction to identify the species, and compared that to the labels. They found that of the 48 samples, 10 contained meat different to what was on the label — in most cases a mixture, but in one case, a completely different animal. The worst offender was ground turkey, but beef actually came out ok, with all the beef samples (the most common in the study) testing as 100% cattle.

The source of the contamination is unclear — either processing facilities are cutting corners on cleaning, leading to cross-contamination, or suppliers are substituting expensive meats for cheaper animals.

This isn’t the first time manufacturers have been caught mixing up the animals: the UK had a similar freak-out a few years ago when horse meat was found in everything from frozen lasagne to Ikea meatballs. But it’s a good reminder that when you’re eating something that’s been chopped and chemically rinsed and minced, you can never really be sure what’s in there.

[Chapman via Treehugger]


Contact the author at chris@gizmodo.com.